Studies in Jude: Introduction

jude-part-1-1-728What must it have been like to be the brother of Jesus? Contemplate for a moment the disbelief, the immense relational challenges that his family must have experienced as it related to their faith. To grow up in such close proximity and intimacy, as siblings do, and to discover that your brother has, all along, been the anointed Messiah of God would have been mind-blowing. It would have been difficult to swallow, to say the least. And yet, in the epistle of Jude we see Jesus’ half-brother clearly contending for the truth of the divinity of his older brother. Jude truly believed the gospel. It is because of his belief in this gospel that Jude writes to the church and begs her to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (v. 3). His message holds as much weight for us today as it did for its original audience.

Jude’s relationship to Jesus is not insignificant to his writing. The name “Jude” is rendered “Judah” in Hebrew and “Judas” in Greek. This is helpful as we try to identify the author of this epistle. Scholars have posited three likely candidates, only one of which holds real weight. The first potential author is Judas, the son of James (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13). Two key factors likely disqualify this person as the author of the New Testament epistle: (1) The epistle identifies Jude as the brother of James, not the son. The genitive of relationship in Luke 6 and Acts 1 indicates paternity, while the language of Jude 1 points clearly to his relationship as a brother; (2) the Jude of the New Testament epistle does not identify himself as an apostle, making the first candidate highly implausible.

The second candidate proposed has been the second century Bishop of Jerusalem. So, here “the brother of James” is the equivalent of a clergy title of some sort. But there are no parallels to this usage anywhere else and it has not carried any real weight as a valid argument.

The third, most likely, answer is that Jude is in fact the brother of James and the half-brother of Jesus. The fact that Jude mentions his brother James at all means that he must have been somewhat well-known, leaving only the brother of Jesus as an option. The fact that Jude mentions only James and not also his brother Jesus is significant. Some critics have used this noticeable absence to assert a different author, but without reasonable doubt we should not be quick to reject this third candidate. Instead, it seems more likely that Jude is intentionally trying to avoid self-promotion. Richard Bauckham argues that Jude is trying to avoid establishing an authority merely on the basis of blood relationship. He writes:

Palestinian-Jewish Christian circles in the early church used the title “brother of the Lord” not simply to identify the brothers, but as ascribing to them an authoritative status, and therefore the brothers themselves, not wishing to claim an authority based on mere blood-relationship to Jesus, avoided the term. (Word Biblical Commentary: Jude, 21)

There’s a degree of humility and authenticity that shines through in this opening introduction. The fact that Jude does not mention his brother Jesus here is significant, but not because it calls into question the author. Rather, it is significant because it suggests the great respect Jude has for his brother, the Messiah, and a relative understanding, then, of his role in relation to his Lord. He is the brother of Jesus, but to those to whom he writes he establishes himself a “servant of Jesus Christ.”

As the disciple begins his letter he is setting an important precedent. There are some among those to whom Jude is writing that believe themselves to be exceedingly important. They are presumptuous (v. 9-10), and “loud-mouthed boasters” (v. 16). The exalt themselves and pronounce their importance, but such is not becoming of a true servant of Christ. Followers of Jesus ought to evidence the same humility that our Lord evidenced in his condescension on earth. Jude starts his letter exemplifying these traits and setting us up for the contrast between true followers of Christ and these men “who long ago were designated for this condemnation” (v. 4). Maybe we ought to expect nothing less than such character from the brother of Jesus. More importantly, however, we ought to expect nothing less than such character from the servant of Christ.

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